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Staffordshire County Council (20 013 025)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs G complains about her son not being allocated a place at their chosen secondary school. The case was heard before an appeal panel, and the clerk did not properly record the decision making as detailed in the Schools Admissions Appeal Code. This has caused Mrs G, and her son, stress and anxiety. The Council has agreed to hold a fresh appeal with a new panel and clerk.

The complaint

  1. Mrs G says the Council’s school admissions panel did not properly consider her appeal to admit her 11-year-old son to their chosen school. She says the panel focused too much on the prejudice to the school and not the issues her son is experiencing. Mrs G says the matter has caused her, and her son, stress and anxiety

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether an independent school admissions appeals panel’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider if there was fault in the way the decision was reached. If we find fault, which calls into question the panel’s decision, we may ask for a new appeal hearing. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of this investigation, I have:
  • considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant,
  • considered the documents provided by the Council, and
  • sent the draft decision to both the Council and the Complainant and considered any comments made in response.

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What I found

  1. Parents/carers have the right to appeal against an admission authority’s decision to refuse admission to a school. This appeal is a statutory tribunal.
  2. The Schools Admissions Appeal Code governs how the appeal process should proceed.
  3. Section 2.26 of the Schools Admissions Appeal Code says the clerk of the appeal must ensure an accurate record of the points raised at the hearing, including the proceedings, attendance, voting and the reasons for decisions.

Key Facts

  1. Mrs G requested her son be moved to a different secondary school because he was being bullied at his current school. She says this was influencing his mental health and she asked the Council to move him.
  2. The request to move schools was declined and Mrs G appealed to have her son’s case heard before a school admissions appeal panel.
  3. A virtual hearing took place before the appeals panel on 28 January 2021. The Panel heard the cases put forward by Mrs G and the School.
  4. Mrs G told the panel her son was being bullied at his current school and this was affecting his mental health. She said a move to their desired school, in an area where her son has friendship groups, would help her son’s mental health. Mrs G said her family previously lived near to their desired school, and her younger son still went to primary school nearby.
  5. The School said it was already full, and further admissions would prejudice its ability to provide efficient education with its available resources.
  6. The appeal panel agreed with the School, and felt the factors put forward by Mrs G did not outweigh the School’s argument.
  7. The Clerk’s notes from the hearing show the panel decision was not unanimous, with two panel members deciding for the school and one for Mrs G.
  8. The Clerk’s notes do not include information about how the decision was reached. The arguments of each party are included, but no details as to why the Panel considers one argument outweighs the other.

Analysis

  1. Mrs G complains the School Admission Appeals Panel did not properly consider her case for her son to be moved to their chosen school. She says the panel focused too much on the School’s case of it being full, and not the points she raised.
  2. I am satisfied the case proceeded through the correct route to the admissions appeal panel, and both the School and Mrs G were able to present their cases at the hearing.
  3. The Panel did not reach a unanimous verdict. The Clerk’s notes should include details of how a decision has been reached. The panel decision says that Mrs G’s case does not outweigh the School’s, but no details are recorded as to why it considers that to be the case.
  4. The Schools Admissions Appeal Code states the clerk’s notes should record details of how decisions were reached. The failure to do this is fault. We cannot be satisfied the panel correctly considered Mrs G’s appeal. This has caused uncertainty for Mrs G, and that injustice requires a remedy to put her back in the position she would have been in.
  5. In response to the draft decision, the Council agreed with my findings.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused by the Council’s fault in this case it has agreed, within two months of my final decision, to arrange for a fresh appeal with a new panel and clerk.

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Final decision

  1. I uphold a finding of fault against the Council for the reasons set out above. The Council has agreed to my recommendations for how it can remedy this injustice in a way that I consider will provide a fair outcome to the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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